Where Does Your Inner Critic Come From?Oct 12, 2020
Updated March 13, 2023
The thoughts that routinely run through your mind create your inner world. When you struggle with body image and low self confidence, that voice is critical. It's the thermostat of your inner world. It determines how comfortable you are living with yourself. This is what is referred to as your inner critic, and it's usually the loudest voice in your head.
We spend so much time beating ourselves up for thinking negatively about ourselves (how defeating!) but there's good news. Your inner critic didn’t come from you. Yes, it lives in your thoughts and sabotages you when you least expect it, but that doesn’t mean it’s inherently part of who you are.
The Truth About Your Inner Critic
You weren’t born with an inner critic. Even if it feels like it's been in your thoughts your whole life, if you think back far enough, you will recognize a time this wasn't true. Just look at kids. They don’t go around criticizing themselves or each other until they reach a certain age. No one was born criticizing, comparing, or competing. All those traits are learned. So all you need it do is track your thoughts back to when you learned this, and who you learned this from.
The inner critic is a voice trained by the negative influences in your life. This voice was trained by overly critical parents, teachers, or friends. It picks up phrases, beliefs, and ideas that who you are isn’t enough. It learns from jealous ex boyfriends and insecure bosses. This voice lives in your mind, but it isn't YOUR mind. The good news is – if someone trained this voice to be negative, this voice can be retrained into something, dare I say, positive.
Disarming Your Inner Critic
The only way to really disarm your inner critic is to discredit its sources. You can try to push away the "bad thoughts" but until you face them, they will keep coming back. Avoiding your inner critic doesn't help, but facing it does! Think back to the person who first told you cellulite is ugly. Think back to the first magazine article that shared secrets like "How to Lose 15 pounds before June 15th!" and ask yourself if Glamour magazine really knows what they're talking about. Ask yourself, did your high school gym teacher really know what they're talking about? Keep going through this process until you finally see that all the criticisms you have running through your mind are actually half-baked ideas about the kind of person you need to be. As you discredit the source of your inner critic's ammunition, you make it completely ineffective when it speaks, and you disarm your inner critic.
This approach is used throughout my book, The Body Image Solution, to disarm and discredit every single insecurity women have about their body. Every negative thing we believe about ourselves comes from an idea of perfection we aren't reaching. I've found it's more effective to question the idea of perfection than it is to question whether or not I'm reaching it.
Using Your Inner Critic as a Roadmap to Build Confidence
The cool thing about an inner critic is it gives itself away pretty quickly. An inner critic that constantly tells you you're not pretty enough is actually telling you the way you've been taught to value yourself is based on a narrow definition of what "pretty" is. The common pitfall of confidence building is trying to become the thing you currently aren't. This takes too much time and energy. Instead, the faster way to build confidence is by poking at the definitions your inner critic uses to trick you into thinking you aren't pretty.
Don't be afraid to get specific around what ammunition your inner critic is using. This voice is nasty. In order to defeat it, you need to dive into the mud a little bit. Write down all the nasty things this voice says. You can take each belief, thought, and definition and put it under the microscope. Test it. Find out if it's really true that "everyone hates crooked teeth" etc. This is how you disarm your inner critic.
It's helpful to know your inner critic is not part of YOU, it's part of your lived experience. There's an important difference that helps prevent shame from poisoning your progress. There's no reason to feel shame about something that happened to you. There's every reason to feel proud of recovering from the hurt and insecurities projected onto you.